May 1, 2009 By Paul W. Taylor
"Launch and learn," the watchwords of Web 2.0, sound a lot like "crash and burn."
Facebook, the social networking site that boasts 175 million users, threaded that needle in February -- not through technology, but governance. Facebook's unilateral change to its terms of service created uproar about who owns and controls user-generated content.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg blogged about the dustup: "History tells us that systems are most fairly governed when there is an open and transparent dialog between the people who make decisions and those who are affected by them." He then replaced the existing terms of service with Facebook principles and a statement of rights and responsibilities, the latter to be reviewed and voted on by users.
Facebook confronted issues that have long bedeviled governments: transparency and openness. Whose information is it? How long should it be retained? How and where should we discuss these issues? (In "Town Halls," says Facebook, a forum created by and for government.) What language do we use to talk about this stuff? (Plain and simple.)
If government can teach Facebook the complexity of these issues -- and it can -- the site showed agility and determination under pressure by dusting itself off after a big public mistake. The Facebook experience provides reminders about good governance:
The current case gives an important example of when the two in Web 2.0 stands for second chance. What have we learned from this about-face? Being fast is good. Being right is better. Listening and developing policy iteratively may prove to be -- in the end -- the best. To Facebook's credit, it regrouped quickly with a surprising second chance -- one in which it remembers that conversation and community is based on two-way communication. When you're Web 2.0, you have to act Web 2.0.
Editor's Note: This column originally appeared as About-Face(book) in the May print edition of Government Technology magazine.